It is like a wind blowing to one out of fairyland

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sir Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 1, 187, dated Dec. 7].

To Mrs. Sitwell [Colvin 1912, pp. 41-43]

[Menton, December, 1873], Sunday.

The first violet. There is more sweet trouble for the heart in the breath of this small flower than in all the wines of all the vineyards of Europe. I cannot contain myself. I do not think so small a thing has ever given me such a princely festival of pleasure. […] I feel as if my heart were a little bunch of violets in my bosom; and my brain is pleasantly intoxicated with the wonderful odour. I suppose I am writing nonsense, but it does not seem nonsense to me. Is it not a wonderful odour? is it not something incredibly subtle and perishable? […] It is like a wind blowing to one out of fairyland. No one need tell me that the phrase is exaggerated if I say that this violet sings; it sings with the same voice as the March blackbird; and the same adorable tremor goes through one’s soul at the hearing of it. […]



Monday. – All yesterday I was under the influence of opium. I had been rather seedy during the night and took a dose in the morning, and for the first time in my life it took effect upon me. I had a day of extraordinary happiness; and when I went to bed there was something almost terrifying in the pleasures that besieged me in the darkness. Wonderful tremors filled me; my head swam in the most delirious but enjoyable manner; and the bed softly oscillated with me, like a boat in a very gentle ripple. It does not make me write a good style apparently, which is just as well, lest I should be tempted to renew the experiment; and some verses which I wrote turn out on inspection to be not quite equal to Kubla Khan. However, I was happy, and the recollection is not troubled by any reaction this morning.

A laudanum bottle, late 19th/early 20th century, Wellcome Library []
Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Khan’ manuscript: the poem was composed by S.T. Coleridge after he experienced an opium-influenced dream in 1797 []


Wednesday. […] Do you know, I think I am much better. I really enjoy things, and I really feel dull occasionally, neither of which was possible with me before; and though I am still tired and weak, I almost think I feel a stirring among the dry bones. O, I should like to recover, and be once more well and happy and fit for work! And then to be able to begin really to my life; to have done, for the rest of time, with preluding and doubting; and to take hold of the pillars strongly with Samson – to burn my ships with (whoever did it). O, I begin to feel my spirits come back to me again at the thought!

Thursday. – I sat along the beach this morning under some reeds (or canes – I know not which they are): everything was so tropical; nothing visible but the glaring white shingle, the blue sea, the blue sky, and the green plumes of the canes thrown out against the latter some ten or fifteen feet above my head. The noise of the surf alone broke the quiet.

Cl. Monet, La route rouge près de Menton, 1884 []

I had somehow got Uber allen Gipfeln ist Ruh into my head; and I was happy for I do not know how long, sitting there and repeating to myself these lines. It is wonderful how things somehow fall into a full satisfying harmony, and out of the fewest elements there is established a sort of small perfection. It was so this morning. I did not want anything further.

[…] – Ever your faithful friend

Robert Louis Stevenson

‘Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh, Wanderers Nachtlied II’, poem by W. Goethe (1783),

Lied by F. Schubert D678 (1823):

Above all mountain tops
it is peace.
In all the tree-tops
you feel
scarcely a breath;
The birds in the forest are silent,
just wait, soon.
you will rest as well!

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